Salmon is not only a significant subsistence resource, but a crucial aspect of Shuswap economic, cultural, physical, and social wellbeing. Dried salmon and fish oil sustained our Secwépemc communities over harsh winter months and were traded with Stoney and Piikani Blackfoot in exchange for other resources such as buffalo and horses.
Areas rich in salmon are fundamentally connected to Shuswap culture, livelihood, and inter-generational knowledge transfer. The First Fish ceremony commemorates a young person’s first salmon catch, and traditional stories feature the fish as an important species that Sk’elép, Coyote, brought to the rivers. Activities, stories and teachings, fishing technologies, and ecological knowledge tie our community, culture, and science to salmon-harvesting locations and drive the connection between Shuswap people, waters, fish, and the land.
Traditional Secwépemc fishing practices in the Columbia River valley were significantly disrupted by the construction of a series of hydroelectric dams in the 20th century. In the 1930s, the Grand Coulee Dam was built, which blocked migrating salmon and permanently damaged major salmon stocks in the Columbia River. The Mica Dam, Hugh Keenleyside Dam, and Duncan Dam also blocked the salmon’s migratory route into major tributaries that had sustained Indigenous communities for millennia. Flooding caused by the Mica and Revelstoke Dams destroyed Secwépemc hunting, gathering, and fishing grounds, as well as numerous areas of cultural and archaeological importance. Spawning grounds were also destroyed through this process, as water sources became warmer and larger in both width and depth. Shuswap Band members now “borrow” fishing sites from other communities because salmon is not available to us within our core Caretaker Area. The Fraser River system as it currently stands does not sustain additional salmon harvest, which has created a moral issue related to the sustainability and availability of the fish for all communities. Because of this, Shuswap Band no longer requests to fish at these sites, and salmon is now purchased for community events rather than caught by our members.
Shuswap Band aims to return salmon to the Columbia River system. As we continue to fuel initiatives that seek to ensure future salmon populations and habitat growth throughout our Caretaker Area, we become more and more confident that the return of salmon is a reality that community members will inherit.
For more information on how you can get involved in Columbia River Salmon Reintroduction, please visit the Bringing the Salmon Home website.
Shuswap Videos Highlighting the Importance of Salmon